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Scanner on ‘marks apartheid’
- Students & parents protest segregation in schools

Mumbai, June 5: Even as schools celebrate their performance in the higher secondary board examination, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission is looking into the segregation of students according to marks in separate sections after complaints from leading mental health professionals in the city.

In a system obsessed with high scorers, psychiatrists feel this kind of segregation has an extremely damaging effect on the self-esteem of mediocre students. Those affected by a system that equates marks with merit are not only forced to seek psychiatric help, but may also suffer lifelong mental damage, they say.

The Counsellors Association of India, a forum of psychiatrists and counsellors, the department of psychology, S.N.D.T. University, and the Parent Teacher Association United Forum have together written to the human rights commission, saying this segregation is a “gross human rights violation”.

The associations say in a joint petition that they have received complaints of this practice at 76 schools across the state, including three premier schools in Mumbai.

The Bombay Psychiatric Society from its platform called Mental Health Professionals Against Segregation has written to the education minister. The application has been signed by 168 professionals. The human rights commission, to which the complaint was submitted on March 15, has directed its investigation wing to “make discreet inquiry into the matter alleged”.

The investigation will take some time, says Dr Harish Shetty, the president of the counsellors’ forum, a prime mover of the cause with whom the commission is in touch.

The complaint mentions the names of three prestigious schools — Parle Tilak Vidyalaya in Vile Parle, Balmohan Vidya Mandir in Dadar and I.E.S. School in Dadar — as having “pioneered this form of discrimination in Maharashtra”.

“Students who score higher marks are segregated from others and put in a separate division for special coaching. These students are taught by the best teachers in the school and provided special attention. They are given study notes, which are not shared. Such discrimination though visible as early as (the) fifth standard is most commonly seen in the 10th standard,” states the complaint.

“Many who do not get into the special batch suffer from loss of esteem, feel inferior, feel discriminated, feel depressed and nurse a grievance throughout their lives. Many seek counselling and the damage caused is immeasurable and hidden.” The “mediocre” children left out of the best section begin to think of themselves as “losers” as early as 14 or 15.

“At least 101 schools practise this form of segregation in Mumbai and other parts of the state,” says the Bombay Psychiatric Society’s complaint.

The sufferers point out what they went through — and that includes the parents.

M.B. Jagirdar, who sent his son to Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, recounts the horrors of sending a child who is talented, but not studious, to a school where only marks matter. “My son went into a depression for being put into a separate class after getting poor marks. He had to see a counsellor. But these schools forget that there is more to a child than just studies. He studied commercial art, though he scored only 59 per cent in the secondary exam. But he is a very successful commercial artist in Canada now,” he says.

His problems did not end with his son. His daughter, who studied in Madhavrao Bhavwat High School, also in Vile Parle, faced the same problem. She went to meet a counsellor, too.

“Not students alone — this academic subject and marks-obsessed system affects teachers, too. Otherwise why are drawing teachers looked upon as inferior in every school'”

But the schools don’t seem to see this as a serious problem.

Arundhati Chavan, president of the Parent Teacher Association United Forum, says the schools have been informed of its action. “We will have to see what they do when they start the next session. But this system has been practised for so long that it is difficult to stem it.”

She is right. The principal of the I.E.S. School in Dadar, when asked about a possible admission of a good student from Calcutta to Class IX, assured that the meritorious students are put in a separate section. A former student, who studied there in the eighties, attests that the system was there then as well.

“But how many of the so-called high-scorers are finally happy and successful in life' For real knowledge you need to interact with everybody. Segregation in classrooms doesn’t have to do with merit — it’s just another expression of Brahminic elitism,” says Dr Shetty.

And it’s not happening in Mumbai alone.

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